Jason’s Archives: The Walmart Effect, or Why It’s Everyone’s Fault Local Gaming Sucks

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A few years ago I saw a flyer lying around at work for something called the 3/50 project. Its tenets were simple: pick three local businesses, spend $50 there every month, save the economy. The idea is since a greater percentage of the money you spend in local businesses stays in your community, you're really investing in your community and spending about the same amount you would at Walmart anyway. You can read more about the project at their website since I don't want to spend too much time reiterating what they've already said better.

In practice, though, you'd be hard-pressed to find the kind of low prices and wide selection at any local Mom and Pop shop that you do at Walmart. The truth is, it's hard to go out of your way to patronize local stores. It's not back-breaking, but in our pampered lives of first world excess, we avoid anything that's even a mild irritant. That's mostly why big box stores can thrive.

You don't agree with how little they pay their workers, their aggressive union-busting tactics, their powerful lobby which gets them taxpayer money to build stores, or how they drove their competitors out of town leaving sometimes hundreds of smaller, local businessmen and -women out of a job -- but hey, you just want a 6-pack and a pair of headphones, not to save the world on every shopping trip. It's convenient, so screw it.

The people at the 3/50 project are trying to make the case that a real cost is associated with patronizing big box megastores, even if it isn't readily apparent at the cash register. Companies underpay workers, run other businesses out of town and secret their profits away in off-shore tax havens after they're diverted to the store's headquarters in another state. That money you give them doesn't stay in your community to benefit you and those around you.

The worst part is, even if you're conscious of these things and make an effort to contribute to three local businesses and avoid big box stores where you can, you're probably still doing it wrong.

I bet you buy over 95% of your cards online.

The LGS/50 Project

I bet you're already rationalizing this behavior to yourself right now. All the reasons why people buy stuff at big box stores apply here, and the argument for buying cards online is even more compelling. Your LGS won't have a millionth of the selection of an online retailer and store hours make it difficult to move on insider information like the tips we got on Wolfir Silverheart, Craterhoof Behemoth and the like. They're often closed for the night when you want to buy 100 copies of Angel of Glory's Rise and you're already in your computer chair, so why not just buy out Troll and Toad?

I'm here to tell you all of that is fine and I don't see a way around it.

Doing What You Can

I've gone on record saying my best trades happen with casual players, some of whom I meet at local community colleges and universities. The majority of Magic players don't play competitively. I know that's a mind-blowing prospect in an era of 2,000+ attendees at Grands Prix. But I'm telling you, you'll meet tons of people just plugging away casually who find FNM or a Prerelease a little too competitive for their taste.

While engaging this community in my local area (Kalamazoo, Michigan, home to Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Kalamazoo College) I learned that the small, local store next to campus was changing ownership. The old owner didn't like Magic so he'd only made a token effort to engage the community and when he grudgingly started running FNM it was unsanctioned and unadvertised.

New ownership meant a new opportunity to attract some new blood. Even casuals need a place to hang out. In a store setting, players contribute financially to the gaming community and are easier to engage once exposed to new formats like Commander and booster draft. Since the new owner planned to run sanctioned FNM he needed a case with actual cards in it.

The Opportunity

You may have heard horror stories from other speculators about trying to sell to an LGS and receiving insulting offers. If your LGS offers you $10 for a Snapcaster Mage and Strikezone is paying $16, it seems like a no-brainer. But what if you managed to talk to LGS owner up to $13? At that point, that extra $3 (minus what you pay to ship) can be considered an investment in your future. I'll explain.

Most stores are willing to sell for around TCG Medium, especially if they're competing with another store in town that charges more. In these cases, if you take less on a card, that money isn't just going to end up in the owner's pocket, it's going to keep the store open. More open LGS means more events at a local level, possibly even an event every night of the week.

If the store is sufficiently small, you may find yourself the only speculator in the customer base. A lot of you pay for Insider. Wouldn't you pay twice that to be the only person with a real binder at a store with a growing player base getting into tournaments? Would you pay a subscription fee for a community that ate up case cards at such a pace the owner constantly had to restock it? Would you take a small hit initially to forge a relationship with a store owner who may increasingly rely on you in the future?

The point is, the potential profit lost from selling to (and buying from) an LGS instead of an online buylist can be seen as an investment. If you have access to a small community like this, what could you do to improve it? Could you keep their case full? Could you buy a few singles at a price a little higher than online? Could you find the casuals and get them interested in hanging out at the store?

The store doesn't have to be your only out. But if you have 200 copies of Master of the Pearl Trident to sell, it won't kill you to take a hit on one or two playsets if it keeps the lights on at your LGS. Chances are, the investment you make in your LGS is going to keep that money in your community and provide a place to trade.

Battle for Los Angeles

Anyone else love how SCG decided to remove their event coverage from the top of the front page and totally botch how they list the decklists for Invitationals? It sure made my job harder. Thanks, guys!

SCG Invitational Decks

This is a mess. Since they listed the decks based on final finishes (in a dual-format tournament), it's really bad data about the strength of each deck. But you don't read this part of my article for data anyway, you just need something to read while you get paid to poop at work.

SCG starts my day off right, making me dig through their heap of disorganized decklists to see they're now calling Bant decks "4-Color Control" because as you know, adding Overgrown Tomb to activate your 1-of [card Nephalia Drownyard]Drownyard[/card] means 4-color control. Did they call mono-red decks with 4x Figure of Destiny "Boros Midrange?" Actually, that's bad joke because they would totally do that.

Anyway, Reid Duke played Bant in the Standard portion of the Invitational, which I still think is the deck to play after all this time. His BUG deck in the Legacy portion reflects the future of Legacy. Abrupt Decay and Deathrite Shaman were the two cards in Return to Ravnica I said would have a huge impact on Legacy (I also said they wouldn't impact Standard, which makes my overall score 75%, a C+ most places). Putting them both in the same deck seems like a no-brainer. The return of Team America makes Tarmogoyf a real contender in Legacy again, which is too bad since I thought its low level of play and imminent reprint might bring its price down to sane levels.

I like Wienburg's Naya Humans list a lot, and with Boros and Gruul about to be spoiled, expect this deck to get better. I am super bullish on Mayor of Avabruck // Howlpack Alpha right now, and decks like this are why. His RUG Delver deck is falling out of favor lately, but it still has the tools to compete. It does lose the long game against Deathrite Shaman, as your graveyard full of cantrips becomes a liability, your [card Nimble Mongoose]Mongoose[/card] becomes a 1/1 that can't even attack into their pesky squire, and your Tarmogoyf is likely to durdle around in the 0/1 range. The early game becomes important, and a flipped [card Delver of Secrets]Delver[/card] can seal the deal before Shaman even gets online.

Johnathon Job also played Naya, which I think is a pretty good choice. Honestly, Standard has turned into "What is the best Thragtusk + Restoration Angel deck?" and you get to pick between Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells or Sphinx's Revelation. U/W Miracles is another deck that's been performing well in Legacy, adding some beats since Abrupt Decay has ended the terrible reign of Counterbalance. You had a good run, cheaters.

I think Nicky Spags has the right idea. Esper Control in Standard may not run Thragtusk, but I would say it's the deck with the most inevitability, a concept all but abandoned in the era of insane lifegain and Nephalia Drownyard degeneracy. Running every good control cards in the game and a gamut of solid planeswalkers, this deck will get there if the game goes long enough. I'm not sure I prefer it to Bant, but it's a refreshing change of pace and Jace, Memory Adept is too good right now. Try it and you'll agree. The 4-color control deck he ran in Legacy is actually just amazing. This may be how the new Knight of the Reliquary decks are going to look. If you can't deal with Abrupt Decay, run a few. Yes, that is an actual Armageddon in his Sideboard. Yes, that gave me partial wood.

U/W/R Flash, blah, whatever. Meet the new Delver, same as the old Delver. His BUG deck is worth talking about, though. Instead of just running BUG goodstuff, Todd Anderson decided to use the Shardless Agents he had lying around from his Hypergenesis days to freeroll good spells at the cost of not knowing which he'd hit. At that point you're getting a free one-mana 2/2 and you have the chance to hit one of your four Ancestral Visions (known colloquially in the Legacy community as "cheating"). Shardless Agent into Hymn to Tourach is also a solid way to spend turn two.

Adam Prosak rounds out our list playing two unorthodox choices, but playing them well. I am not convinced his flash deck doesn't need red for things like [card Pillar of Flame]Pillar[/card] and Searing Spear, but jamming more [card Runechanters Pike]Pikes[/card] and more copies of your cards is never all that bad. I bet the deck is a bit more consistent in its bad matches than U/W/R, but I bet it has more of them. As for Legacy, if you like ANT and know how to run it, I'm not sure you ever have to build anything else if you really don't want to.

Standard Open Top 8

For everyone who didn't qualify for the Invitational or scrubbed out, there was an Open to play in as well. I didn't expect to see eight different decks in the top eight, but there we have it. I realize two of the decks are both named "4-Color Midrange" but that's not because they have any similarities at all. One is Staticaster Jund and the other is Naya with Sphinx's Revelation.

This reads like a list of all possible tier one decks in Standard right now, which is fine with me. A format this healthy before a new infusion of cards is exciting. As excited as aggro players are for the goodies they'll get in Boros and Gruul, control players can look forward to Dimir making U/B standalone a possibility with better mana. Orzhov will presumably get something to pair with Lingering Souls, possibly creating an Orzhov control deck or contributing to a better Esper build. Simic players can look forward to coal in their stocking. On a bright note, a legal Breeding Pool will improve Bant's mana base.

Legacy Open Top 8

I wish my enthusiasm for Sam Black's Zombardment deck translated at all into success playing it. It has a lot of built in synergy and semi-finite loops that add up to a lot of damage, and its ability to destroy hands makes it a force to be reckoned with. I just can't make it do what I want it to. It could be because I keep forgetting Bloodghast isn't a zombie.

Last time I played this deck I didn't have Deathrite Shaman. After splashing green for Vengevine, I think returning to the original build with Deathrite may be the way to go. I hope Sam continues to tune this deck and I will continue to jam it because I am a masochist and because losing with it all day long can also be considered "practice" by a more optimistic person and holy %*&$ it's a Dreadstill deck in the top eight!


Grim Lavamancer isn't just a poor man's Deathrite Shaman, he's a Deathrite Shaman-murdering machine. Stifle is good right now, as evidenced by how well it's doing in RUG Delver, so getting a [card Phyrexian Dreadnought]12/12[/card] for the cost of a [card Senseis Divining Top]Divining Top[/card] seems fine if you want Stifle in your grip anyhow.

I expected Stiflenought decks to get more popular when they printed Snapcaster Mage because that gave you way more opportunities to Stifle. Most players let the Dreadnought resolve and counter the Stifle, which you can just snap back if you have three mana free. Unfortunately, Snapcaster lets them just play another Force of Will and people had moved on from Dreadstill long before Innistrad came out anyway.

The "Pet Deck of the Week" slot is taken up by Lands this time around. I don't think Lands can beat a Jace, the Mind Sculptor but it runs roughshod over the aggro decks in the format, so I am a fan.

Aggro Loam is another deck that benefits from Deathrite Shaman and it's good to see it in the top eight.

Really, I don't see a lot of surprises, here. Legacy is a healthy format in the process of incorporating two new powerhouses -- Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay. How people do it in the coming months may surprise us, and with two more Ravnica sets to come out, we may get a lot more to digest.

Another Two Articles for the Price of Zero

I have other stuff to do, so I'm taking my leave of you now, readership. Follow me on Twitter, listen to the podcast, friend me on facebook, buy me a present from my Amazon wishlist (if I ever make one) or very very very conspicuously ask me to sign your playmat in front of Kelly Reid because I know it will confuse the hell out of him. Hit me up in the comments section and I'll try to keep the insults to your mother to a minimum.

10 thoughts on “Jason’s Archives: The Walmart Effect, or Why It’s Everyone’s Fault Local Gaming Sucks

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with the LGS advice. I can happily claim a solid job (with decent paycheck) but know a lot of gamers who pinch every penny (and it’s understandable..everything’s getting more expensive) but as you mentioned, saving a little money here and there to play MTG and then losing your place to play means that all the money you spent on the cards won’t matter because you’ll have a bunch of cardboard and no one to enjoy it with. I’ll admit that I’m quite lucky in that we have 4+ LGS’s within 30 min. of where I live and each cater’s to a different crowd, but I buy from all of them, that doesn’t mean I don’t look for the best deal, but I don’t worry about 50 cents here or a dollar here. It’s important to keep your LGS’s active and prosperous. However, on a different note it’s up to the owners of LGS’s to keep their player base happy…we have one store in the area that’s screwed enough customer’s over that nobody wants to go there…which is a shame because the store is big and he has the largest selection of cards in the area, but he’s a d-bag so it all counts for nought.

  2. Great article, as usual, Jason. Your message about supporting the LGSs is something we should all stop and think about. I am fortunate enough to have a LGS owner that recognizes the online competition and prices cards accordingly, so I am more than willing to patronize. The owner also lets us put singles in our comic box, with the understanding that we pay what the price was when they went in, which can, at times, be advantageous for the speculator, while guaranteeing some sales.

  3. I don\’t ask for upvotes, but I\’d like it if some people joined the discussion in the comments where this was posted on the Magic subreddit. The discussion is being largely dominated by one person who missed the entire point of the article and is using it as a bully pulpit to talk about how capitalism weeds out bad stores.

  4. A tutti quelli che non hanno nulla a contribuire, ma gridare al palo, ho un preventivo per voi da Denis Thatcher: “Meglio tenere la bocca chiusa e di essere pensato uno stolto che aprirla e togliere ogni dubbio.”

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